Debt Settlement & Income Taxes - What You Need To Know
By Charles Phelan
Debt settlement has become a popular approach to resolving problem debts without having to file bankruptcy. With this approach, creditors agree to accept a portion of what you owe (usually around 50% or less) to settle the account, and the remaining balance is forgiven. This technique will certainly continue to grow in popularity now that the new bankruptcy law makes it tougher to fully discharge debts in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy.
As with anything, there is no free lunch, and creditors are required to report canceled debts to the IRS on Form 1099 (when the canceled balance is $600 or greater). Therefore, the possibility exists that you may owe taxes on the forgiven portion of the debt. For this reason, many financial writers and debt counselors are strongly critical of debt settlement, to the point where they actually recommend against it just because you might end up owing taxes. But the tax consequences of settling your debts are greatly over-emphasized, and this is a really just a minor issue at best.
First, even if you end up owing taxes on the canceled balances, that's because you saved a bunch of money off your original debts. The total of what you paid the creditor, plus the taxes, will still be much less than what you owed to begin with. There is still a net savings. So it's hard to understand why this is viewed as a problem in the first place!
Second, the great majority of people who settle their debts are not required to pay taxes on the forgiven part of the balance. That's because of the "insolvency" rule, described in IRS Publication 908, "Bankruptcy Tax Guide." Don't let the title fool you. You don't need to have filed a formal declaration of bankruptcy to take advantage of the insolvency rule.
Basically, "insolvent" means that you have a negative net worth -- that is, you "owe" more than you "own." As a consequence, most debtors do not have a tax liability on the canceled debts, simply because most debtors are insolvent! It usually comes down to home equity. If you have enough equity in a home (or other property) to outweigh the total of your liabilities (debts), then you have a positive net worth, and will likely have to pay taxes on the forgiven debt amounts. However, the majority of people in serious debt trouble have a negative net worth, and are therefore insolvent. The way it works is that you can offset the canceled debt up to the amount by which you were insolvent at the time you did the settlement.
Come tax time, be sure to get professional tax advice specific to your situation. Also, be sure to read the section in IRS Publication 908 on "reduction of tax attributes," which requires people using the insolvency rule to reduce their basis in such things as rental property, loss carryovers, etc. Most of that probably won't apply to you, but again, get specific advice before winging it.
So, the message is, relax about paying taxes on canceled debt balances. That should be the least of your concerns if you're upside down financially. Don't let the misguided criticisms of financial writers (who haven't done their homework) discourage you from looking into one of the most popular and flexible options for achieving debt-freedom.
About the Author
Charles J. Phelan has been helping people become debt-free without bankruptcy since 1997. A former executive in the debt settlement industry, he teaches the do-it-yourself method of debt negotiation. Audio-CD material plus expert personal coaching helps consumers achieve professional results at a fraction of the cost. http://www.zipdebt.com
Article Source: http://www.simplysearch4it.com/article/14123.html
|If you wish to add the above article to your website or newsletters then please include the "Article Source: http://www.simplysearch4it.com/article/14123.html" as shown above and make it hyperlinked.|
| Some other articles by Charles Phelan|
|The New Bankruptcy Law "Means Test" Explained in Plain English|
With the new bankruptcy law in effect as of October 17, 2005, there is a lot of confusion with regard to the new "means test" requirement. The means test will be used ...
Credit Protection Insurance -- Just Another Consumer Rip-Off
Credit protection insurance is a good example of a consumer rip-off that affects millions of people, yet receives little attention in the financial media. Simply stated, ...
Credit Cards For People With Bad Credit - How To Avoid Getting Ripped Off
If you've had credit problems, then you've probably received offers for credit cards aimed at people with bad credit. These offers range from legitimate, to questionable, ...
Budgeting -- The Critical Flaw That Causes Most Budgets To Fail
Budgeting. It's a word we're all familiar with. Everyone knows what a budget is, right? Yet how many of us actually make and stick to a solid monthly budget? The truth is that most of us ...
The New Bankruptcy Law -- How Will It Affect Debt Negotiation?
In April 2005, Congress made sweeping changes in U.S. bankruptcy law that will go into effect on October 17, 2005. It's called the "Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005," and it means big trouble ...
Debt Relief -- Why Most Programs Have A 75% Failure Rate
Debt consolidation, equity loans, credit counseling, debt management plans, even Chapter 13 bankruptcy – it doesn't matter which of these debt programs you're talking about. They all suffer from one fatal flaw, the ...